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The case for campaign contribution reform grows with each passing election.

Take the city of Monterey, for instance, where a reform-minded city councilwoman, Libby Downey, was knocked out of office in November by an opponent who raised nearly six times as much money, much of it from a segment of the business community that Downey had tangled with.

The successful candidate was Dan Albert Jr., son of the longtime Monterey mayor. In a three-candidate race for two seats on the council, he pulled in $53,365 compared to $9,411 for Downey and $8,549 for Alan Haffa, who retained his seat.

Downey and Haffa have led the city’s efforts to reform leasing practices at city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where some longtime tenants who negotiated sweetheart lease deals with the city decades ago are allowed to sublease the space to other businesses at greatly increased rates without the city receiving any share of the additional income.

The effort to change that and other practices has been met with furious resistance from wharf tenants, who have repeatedly  accused city officials of attempting to turn the wharf over to chain restaurants at the expense of local, family-owned operations. With Downey’s departure, the city has softened its approach to negotiating more taxpayer-friendly leases at the wharf. The city’s resolve weakened further when Councilman Timothy Barrett, previously in the Haffa-Downey camp on the issue, was somehow persuaded to switch sides. Haffa is now expected to be outvoted 4-1 on wharf matters, so the established wharf interests appear to have regained their grip on  city leasing policy.

Albert’s contributors listed in the most recent campaign spending reports include the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association, $2,500; and two closely related entities, the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Monterey Hospitality Association, $5,000 apiece. The $5,000 contributions came after the election and were presumably intended to help Albert build his treasury for a re-election effort. He also took in contributions from Monterey Fish Co., Randy’s Fishing Trips, the Cannery Row Co., Portola Hotel, Marriott Hotel and lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represents the Shake family interests on the wharf.

Incidentally, or not, in his previous role as associate superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Albert was an active participant in the pay-to-play system of awarding school bond contracts to companies that provide most of the financing for school bond measure campaigns.

The Monterey district was not alone, of course. School districts throughout California and beyond traditionally financed bond campaigns with contributions from bond underwriters and construction companies that would directly benefit from the resulting school construction contracts. In California, the state Treasurer’s Office only last year enacted regulations that prohibit contracts from being awarded to the firms that financed the corresponding bond measures. Bonding companies can still contribute to bond measure campaigns but they cannot then recover their investment directly by receiving contracts in the same communities.

No one has accused Albert of any illegal or unethical activities. The connection between school bond campaign financing and subsequent contracts has been so clear for so long that the built-in conflicts of interests were widely viewed as a necessary cost of getting schools built or repaired.

While Albert was the local school district’s chief business officer, his wife, Sharon, ran the successful Measure P campaign that raised more than $100 million in 2010, and she received considerable and justifiable praise for her efforts. With district officials barred from direct involvement in bond campaigns, companies that went on to receive sizable construction or finance contracts contributed the bulk of the money needed to persuade voters to approve the MPUSD bond program. A sizable share of the resulting construction work went to campaign contributor Harris Construction of Fresno, now under investigation for a bid-rigging scheme in Fresno. Others contributing to Measure P and then benefiting from the construction program included the Piper Jaffray and Stone & Youngberg bond firms, Keygent Advisers, a San Francisco bond counsel and a Fresno architecture firm.

Efforts to limit campaign contributions locally have surfaced from time to time but most have sputtered as local political action committees such as the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Salinas Valley Leadership Group have stepped up to support the most commerce-friendly candidates. At the moment, however, momentum appears to be growing for new, tougher rules that would affect candidates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

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All was not lost on election day, at least not locally

edit_14232393_1166055086801312_6162782396031943489_nOn the way home from therapy on Wednesday, I stopped along the highway to pick up an election souvenir, a green-and-white YES ON Z sign. It now rests next to my computer as a reminder that all is not lost, that sometimes the good guys win.

I’m sure I will look at the sign often while reading about the latest groaner from the Trump administration. I am hoping that it will ease my despair and keep me focused on the positive and the local.

While the national election was an unmitigated disaster, it was a mixed bag locally. You had to look closely for the positives, but they were there.

Measure Z, of course, wins first prize for greatest success in the face of overwhelming money. It was the anti-fracking measure and you know all about it so I’ll spare you the normal details except for how the oil industry spent at least $5.5 million to fight it. (I’m hoping our friends at KSBW and elsewhere in electronic media spend their campaign advertising fortune wisely.)

Co-conspirator Larry Parsons and I made the rounds of election parties Tuesday night. We tried to stop by the Measure Z party in Salinas but a goodly share of the Measure Z camp is, well, it’s older now and the lights were off before 10 p.m.

We did stop by the Yes on Y affair. Medical marijuana, another ballot winner. I thought for a minute we had made a wrong turn and had ended up at a Pebble Beach Food & Wine after-party. There were lots of very pretty people, young and well dressed. I didn’t recognize anyone.

Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey’s party nearby was a quieter affair filled with older folks in comfortable clothes. Libby was just as gracious in defeat as she always is, saying that if Dan Albert Jr. had to knock one of the progressives off the council, which he did, it was better that it wasn’t Alan Haffa. For Downey, being on the council has meant also being on the mayors water authority and the boards of TAMC and the transit authority and the sewer board, etc., etc. It has meant almost daily meetings and lots of work. She deserves a standing ovation as she steps aside.

The Seaside results can be interpreted in different ways. I see it as a victory for common sense because even though Ralph Rubio will stick around as mayor, the fact that he didn’t receive an outright majority tells me that the people of Seaside aren’t so keen on the Monterey Downs project. Kay Cline came in a close second on a platform led by her opposition to the racetrack/housing venture. Give her the votes of the other two candidates and she would have won.

Cline’s party at the Press Club was upbeat even though no one in the room was enjoying the national election coverage on the bank of TVs.

Supporting my Seaside thoughts was the defeat of Councilman Ian Oglesby, who once was a promising newcomer but who fell into the trap of doing what Ralph wanted him to do. He will be replaced by Kayla Jones, a rising star with a progressive view of Seaside’s needs. Dave Pacheco was re-elected, a good thing because every council needs someone who is only looking out for the people.

Seaside was the setting for Sen. Bill Monning’s intimate victory party, populated mostly by campaign workers and elected officials such as Jane Parker and Mary Adams. Mel Mason was there, looking well. The Monning affair was at DeMarco’s Pizza, my go-to place for pizza. Monning and Haffa are also regulars there and you should be, too.  (This is what they call a plug. DeMarco’s is on Broadway (Obama Way) across the street from Goodwill.)

In Salinas, the big news was that odd-man-out Councilman Jose Castaneda is all the way out, finishing fourth in a four-way race for his seat. All went as expected in Pacific Grove. Nothing new there. Same with Marina, though it was gratifying to see Kevin Saunders fall flat, especially after he lobbed some anti-Semitic nonsense at Weekly editor Sara Rubin. Go off somewhere and torch one, Kevin, and leave the rest of us alone.

The Hartnell bond was approved and the transportation tax may have been approved. It needs two-thirds approval and had almost exactly that as of last count but there are thousands more ballots to count before we rest.

Could have been worse. Not nearly good enough to salve the sting of the Trump victory but good enough to keep some good people in the game for a few more cycles.

Congratulations to the Measure Z camp, especially Jeanne Turner, who did a remarkable job of organizing the petition drive and keeping her colleagues focused.

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IMG_0690Monterey City Councilman Timothy Barrett frequently aligns with colleagues Libby Downey and Alan Haffa but has taken a sharp turn to oppose their effort to reform the city’s archaic leasing policies for the city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf.

Barrett has distributed what he is calling an “information paper” to argue essentially that the city treats commercial tenants at the wharf unfairly even though several are operating under below-market rental agreements negotiated decades ago.

Unfortunately for Barrett and others who have taken up the tenants’ cause, he sabotages his argument with erroneous information, including a huge exaggeration of the taxes generated by the wharf merchants.

Early in his paper, Barrett features a list of “incontrovertible facts.” One is that the city is spending some of the wharf income on impermissible expenses. He writes that state law requires all income derived from tideland properties to be expended in the tideland zone but he cites no examples of money improperly spent. The implication is that wharf income must be reinvested in the wharf, though state law and city policy clearly allow for the money to be used for other tideland purposes such as harbor dredging.

The heart of his case that the city is impermissibly profiting from the wharf and not reinvesting all the rental income into the wharf for maintenance, improvements or other expenses. He argues that the wharf enterprises are subsidizing the city and suggests it should be the other way around.

What’s wrong with his argument is simply this. If all the income from rental property had to be plowed back into the property, what would be the point of owning the property? Would any commercial landlords intentionally adopt a break-even business plan? The city could operate the wharf as a non-profit venture by offering discounted rental rates, but it would need to offer leasing opportunities to all comers and require them to provide a public service component beyond the catch of the day.

Which brings up another of Barrett’s “incontrovertible facts.”

Without much thought, apparently, Barrett writes this: “Incontrovertible Fact: Wharf 1 generates approximately 25% of the City of Monterey sales tax revenues. Sales tax revenues accrue to the General Fund where they support City services such as fire and police, services which benefit the entire community.”

The problem here is that the wharf generates only 4 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue, according to City Manager Mike McCarthy in a memo to the council last week. Not 25 percent. Not 10 percent. Four percent.

Barrett must not have thought about the scale of the wharf operations – a dozen or so restaurants, some gift shops, some fishing and cruising operations – and compare it to the scale of the rest of the sales tax-generating businesses in the city. Such as Del Monte Center, downtown, the Fremont and Lighthouse business corridors and, of course, Cannery Row.

You may have seen Barrett’s 25 percent figure repeated in a letter to the editor of the Herald the other day. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

Finally, Barrett falls for a big piece of the PR campaign being waged by the wharf merchants in support of the status quo. They have argued, without evidence, that the city’s effort to modernize the leasing structure would bring in chain restaurants and eliminate some of the unique and local operations there.

Barrett writes, “On multiple occasions during comments delivered to the Monterey City Council, proponents of the City’s Leasing Policies / Guidelines have indicated a desire to see corporate chains on Wharf 1 where locally owned and headquartered businesses now exist.”

I emailed Barrett over the weekend and again Monday to ask him if he could cite specifics. I haven’t heard back from him. Downey said Monday that she has not heard any city representatives say anything of the sort. She and Haffa, the chief proponents of reforming the lease policies, have made it clear repeatedly that they want the city to maintain the local character of the wharf.

The council takes up the issue of wharf leases again Tuesday night. With Barrett’s defection from the reform camp, it seems likely that the wharf interests will continue to chip away at the reform measures and that people who signed wharf leases years ago will continue subleasing the properties to others for multiples of what they are paying the city. It amounts to profiteering at the expense of taxpayers.

There’s a lot of tradition in a place like Monterey, the good kind and the not so good.

Here’s Barrett’s white paper and the city manager’s response.

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The Monterey Bay Partisan tries to tell you how to vote

160_f_120626248_g4tp9zjjlz9bglrzr86wd5wixngadl3kIF YOU WANT SURPRISES, YOU’RE IN THE WRONG PLACE

Back when I was editor of the Monterey Herald, I found it amusing to compare our political endorsements with those of the Monterey County Weekly. The Herald was, of course, the local headquarters of the mainstream media and the Weekly was the alternative.

But for a brief period, I was able to drag the Herald’s endorsements a little to the left, far enough that the choices of the daily and once-a-week publications became a rather close match. I imagined the ink-stained wretches at the Weekly gnashing their teeth, at least a little. Part of the job description at alternative papers everywhere is to huff and puff about those corporate suits over at the daily.

I suspect the fine folks at the Weekly don’t mind at all that the Herald in my absence has done a much better job of being the voice of the establishment. For proof of that, look no farther than its support for the Monterey Downs horse-racing, home-building venture despite flaws such as no water and no financing. Or its upcoming endorsements in the local political races. Last time around, the Herald even endorsed Marina water board member Howard Gustafson, the Donald Trump of Peninsula politics.

Today, I set out the Partisan’s endorsements in the local political races and I am afraid that close observers will notice a strong resemblance to the choices made this week by the Weekly. In my decidedly subjective view, the Weekly made some wise choices and I found the presentation to be excellent as well. Short, to the point, easy to follow and filled with entertaining tidbits.

I’m afraid that this exercise will accomplish little except to reinforce the choices in the latest Weekly. I’ll flag any variations.

CONGRESS: Jimmy Panetta

I don’t care for political dynasties either, but being Leon’s son should give Jimmy a big head start in Washington. While his GOP opponent, Casey Lucius, would be one of many new faces in Congress, Jimmy’s Rolodex will be overflowing with the names of ready-made allies.

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Panetta

Panetta is the smart, engaging former prosecutor who served in Afghanistan and never did anything wrong. Lucius may be right when she says he wouldn’t be on the verge of congressional office if he was, say Jimmy Williams or Jimmy Smith, but, then again, he just might be.

Lucius has gained excellent name recognition and a crowd of admirers. She’d be wise to put that into a race for state office, but because of her military and other federal experience, she seems interested only in Washington. I imagine the 20th Congressional District seat will be Panetta’s for as long as he wants it. If Lucius really has her heart set, she’d be wise to make a run at the Assembly in a few years. Her politics are a bit conservative for the region but she has already shown an ability to win people over.

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Lucius

Lucius constantly makes the point that she deserves the job because she has worked hard for it and really, really wants it, and that Panetta is the favorite in part because of his lineage. That resonates with voters who are tired of what Washington has become. But elections aren’t about being fair to underdogs or rewarding earnestness. Panetta brings everything that Lucius brings to the job and he will be a particularly able representative from day one.

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 17: Bill Monning, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 29: Mark Stone, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 30: Anna Caballero. This one gives me pause. She’s not in the same realm as Monning and Stone. While they are true public servants, she is more of a career politician/bureaucrat. She had no problem accepting tons of money from wherever, especially the charter school movement, which is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken the teachers union.

Despite some drawbacks, Caballero still inspires more confidence than her opponent, Karina Cervantez Alejo, the former Watsonville mayor and wife of soon-to-be Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, the former assemblyman. There seems to be a tag team approach to the Alejo campaigns and at least some element of mystery to their agendas.

Monterey City Council: Incumbents Libby Downey and Alan Haffa

This is about balance of power on the council, old school vs. new school.

Representing the old school is challenger Dan Albert Jr., son of the former longtime mayor. To a large degree, he is the candidate of the longtime Fishermans Wharf interests, Cannery Row and the closely related hospitality industry.

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Downey

Downey, a retired school nurse, and Haffa, a Monterey Peninsula College, are running as an unofficial slate. Though they have had their differences, they are united by their effort to reform the city’s leasing practices at the wharf, where businesses that signed leases decades ago are living off sub-leases costing the tenants many times more. Albert’s father was a major player in adopting the old order on the wharf. While the elder Albert deserves credit for major accomplishments, including the Monterey Sports Center and the fantastically successful Windows on the Bay initiative, he also remained a close ally of the corporate interests that have pulled the strings at City Hall for decades.

By electing Albert over either of the incumbents, voters would be tipping the scales to the corporate side and away from the reform side.

Albert was a long time teacher and principal in the Monterey Peninsula school system. He recently retired as assistant superintendent of the district, a position in which he did not distinguish himself. He turned much of the district’s bond financing work over to a Clovis-based consultant who has since been fined by the Securities & Exchange Commission for conflicts of interests and who is currently embroiled in an FBI investigation in Fresno that focuses on a school contractor that also did considerable work here under Albert’s watch. I will be surprised if some of the Monterey district’s bonding troubles aren’t incorporated into the Fresno investigation.

The $100 million bond measure that Albert oversaw for the Monterey schools began with a political campaign financed largely by the same bonding companies that later received contracts to execute the bond. The state Treasurers Office has since banned such arrangements, something that should have happened decades ago.

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Haffa

Despite being past retirement age, Downey is a tireless representative of the city at various other agencies and a voice of reason on transportation and water issues. She is more of a moderate than the aggressively progressive Haffa, who was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement and who was a Sanders delegate. He brings political passion to the council task but he also has shown a pragmatic side when necessary.

Marina mayor: Bruce Delgado

Delgado is a true believer in environmental causes and the inherent goodness of people. He is an idealist who has learned to support intelligent economic development for the good of his constituency. He is an effective mayor and a truly nice guy in a city that doesn’t always play nice. His opponent, Kevin Saunders, is all about medical marijuana and creating a fuss.

Pacific Grove mayor: Bill Kampe

Kampe is so solid as to be downright boring. He’s good with the administrative aspects of the job and he has dived into the technical aspects, including the water issues that dominate local governance. In my view, he’s been too friendly with Cal Am and other corporate interests, but he can back up his positions with a reasonable amount of logic.

His opponent, Councilman Dan Miller, loves his city but he simply doesn’t have the temperament for the job. His friends say he has been getting calmer over time but it could be a while before he’s ready to pick up the gavel.

Salinas mayor: No endorsement

Incumbent Joe Gunter, the former police detective, is a throwback to simpler times in a city that faces every type of big city problems, including heavy duty crime and homelessness. His support for law enforcement hasn’t translated into putting more cops on the street, though, and remarkably the Police Department has even had to close its narcotics bureau simply to keep the numbers up on the streets.

Gunter runs an OK meeting but he has shown little of the leadership that the city needs to build its economy, reverse some of its blight and quiet the gangs. The previous mayor, Dennis Donohue, was too much of a dreamer, a big spender chasing elusive rewards. Gunter is too much the opposite.

Unfortunately, his opponent, auto repair shop owner Amit Pandya, has a somewhat sketchy reputation in business circles and he hasn’t been able to demonstrate where he would find the money to finance his big promise to add lots of officers to the force. The Weekly endorsed Gunter.

Salinas City Council District 1: Brian Contreras

For as long as I can remember, Contreras has been the talking head that media types turn to for comment whenever gang activity spikes in Salinas, which is often. He founded the Second Chance Family and Youth Services organization, and he does know as much as anyone about the gang problem. He stands out in a weak field.

Incumbent Jose Castaneda mouths the type of politics that the Partisan embraces, seriously progressive and inclusive, but it’s all for show. His pouty opposition to everything has become an obstacle and a distraction. He needs to go away. Sheriff’s union leader Scott Davis is a creation of contractor Don Chapin’s pro-development political machine and a shill for Sheriff Steve Bernal.

Salinas City Council District 4: Virginia Mendoza

I don’t know much about her but I’m at a loss to think of a reason to vote for De La Rosa. The Weekly gave her a thumbs up.

Salinas City Council District 6: Incumbent Jyl Lutes

She has a long record of public service, representing progressive views for the most part, and her opponent, Tony Villegas, hasn’t give any good reason to support him.

Seaside mayor: Kay Cline

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Cline

Cline started as a one-issue candidate, but it’s the biggest issue in town. Monterey Downs. She has been an active opponent of the misbegotten project along with her husband, retired meteorology professor Bill Weigle. Though there is some support for the big racetrack/housing project in Seaside, it’s mostly the short-term variety bought and paid for by the would-be developer. The project is a fiasco and incumbent Ralph Rubio’s support for it is one reason he should go. Rubio has been a solid mayor but it was often difficult to tell if he was wearing his mayoral hat or his Carpenters Union hat.

Cline has been a leader of the Sustainable Seaside environmental group for a decade now and she is on the side of transparency and economic development that enhances the city without simply enriching the developers.

Former Mayor Felix Bachofner is making another run at the office and he also represents a decent choice. The downside is that he mostly a budget wonk and, well, he’s already had his chance. Newcomer Gertrude Smith could make a great councilmember and/or mayor someday.

Seaside City Council: Kayla Jones and Dave Pacheco

I was impressed by Ian Oglesby when I met him a decade ago. Mature, articulate, he was like a reborn Jerry Smith with additional skills. But he has been a major disappointment on the council, showing himself to be a follower instead of any kind of a leader.

Jones is the freshest of fresh faces, just 23 years old, but articulate beyond her years. She comes from a political family and already understands city politics, and its needs, as well as Oglesby.

Incumbent Dave Pacheco is the nice guy that every council needs. He is the former city recreation leader and he oozes concern for youth. For him, this is about service, not politics.

That’s it, folks. I’d like to make recommendations in the Pacific Grove and Del Rey Oaks city council races, but I don’t know enough about the candidates to make intelligence choices. For the PG council, the Weekly went with Cynthia Garfield, Robert Huitt and Jenny McAdams. In Del Rey Oaks, the Weekly went with Mike Ventimiglia and Kristin Clark.

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Regretfully, after nearly a year of negotiations between the city of Monterey and  Sam Balesteri, who has had a master lease for the Wharf Gift Shop, Coffee Shop, and Paluca’s Trattoria for 50 years, it has become clear that an agreement cannot be reached. This was heartbreaking to me.  I know and like Mr. Balesteri’s sons, and the last thing I wanted was this outcome for these wharf businesses.

But my responsibility is to do what is best for the city. The City Council has great respect for the history and heritage of the wharf, and much of that history and heritage is a direct contribution of the tenants. Because of this respect, the city chose to negotiate first with existing tenants rather than market the property competitively.

Second, we offered terms that gradually ramped up rents to move the lease terms toward market rate over a period of years, making it easier for the businesses to make adjustments.  The city also made other concessions to try to find a way to extend the Baluster lease. But the council has a responsibility to manage our resources wisely, to treat everyone fairly, and to ensure taxpayers are not subsidizing businesses.

People need to know that the decision to evict these businesses was not a careless one; it came after 11 months of fair negotiations and after several hours of discussion by council and staff. On several occasions the city made concessions during negotiations and on several occasions we thought Mr. Balesteri was ready to sign a lease renewal. Each time he came back seeking more concessions from the public. In the end it became apparent that he wanted a deal similar to the 50-year ground lease that expired two years ago.

I am not permitted to tell you what he has been paying the city for monthly rent—only he can—because it would let competitors know his revenue, which is considered “proprietary” information. Before people decide if the city is being unfair they should ask to see what monthly rent is being paid and then look into what other businesses pay. What I can say is that the proposed terms were still below market rent as compared to what other businesses in town pay. Moreover, the city offered terms of more than ten years so the rumors you may be hearing to the contrary are simply not true.

If you think the city was asking for something unreasonable, then why would Mr. Balesteri’s sub-tenant, who owns and runs the restaurant, Paluca Trattoria, sign a lease directly with the city on terms comparable to what was offered Mr. Balesteri?  He has been able to run a successful business for years paying Mr. Balesteri market rent; why is it a hardship for Mr. Balesteri, who has enjoyed favorable terms for 50 years, to pay rent comparable to other businesses?

The city took so much time and was willing to compromise so much because we truly wanted to keep Mr. Balesteri there on the wharf. We appreciate who he is and what he has done. The city’s approach is to negotiate first with current tenants and seek market rate terms as their leases expire.  If that fails, then we will market the properties and again give first priority to local and independently owned businesses. False claims from wharf business owners that the city has plans to replace local businesses with national chains like Hooters, McDonalds, and Red Lobster are false and misleading.  I personally inserted a motion into our leasing policy that expressly allows the council to give preference in leasing to local business and that is what we have been doing.

My core principles tell me that the public should not be subsidizing private business, however nice the owner of the private business may be. Due to the limitations of the leases negotiated decades ago, the city has used some General Fund money to pay for maintenance and improvements in our Tidelands area, which should be funded by Tideland’s commercial leases. Additional revenue from the commercial leases will enable the city to make the wharves more attractive, clean, safe and enjoyable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Libby Downey contributed to this article. She and Haffa are members of the Monterey City Council and have been leaders of the effort to reform the city’s leasing practices.  Some of the Monterey wharf tenants, led by restaurant owner Chris Shake, have been conducting a vigorous disinformation campaign via petitions and social media in an attempt maintain deeply discounted rental rates by putting political pressure on the City Council. The group contends, with zero evidence, that the city wants to drive out local operators in favor of chains and, contrary to reality, that the city won’t allow new leases beyond 10 years.

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Have you ever wondered about the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, how they got there, and what difference they make?  Well, you may see me during the television coverage of July 25-28 because I am one of them this year.  Over the last several months I have had a unique opportunity to learn how our electoral system works first-hand and I must confess that the process is byzantine and less than democratic.  I am documenting here how I became a delegate and what my experience at the California Democratic delegate convention was like. Later I intend to share with you about my experiences in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

At the age of 51, and as someone who has been actively involved in politics most of my life, it is surprising that I had no idea how delegates were selected. Now that I understand better I can see why I and most citizens have no clue: the process is nearly secret.

For me, the first step to Philadelphia was going to the California Democratic Party website and filling out a form and submitting it by fax by April 13.  Delegates are chosen by congressional district and in Congressional District 20, which includes Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, there were about 60 applications to be Bernie Sanders-pledged delegates and about 20 to be Hillary Clinton-pledged delegates. More on this in a moment, but what does “pledged” mean?

Haffa is a professor at Monterey Peninsula College and a member of the Monterey City Council. The Partisan will be following him on the road to the DNC in Philadelphia. Stay tuned for future installments.

As it turns out, there are four types of delegates: Pledged and elected delegates like myself, PLEOS (Party Leader Elected Officials who are pledged), at-large delegates who are pledged, and super delegates who are unpledged.  Each congressional district is assigned a number of delegates based on the population and how many people voted in the last election.  In CD20, which is Sam Farr’s district, we were allocated three male pledged, three female and one alternate.  At large, PLEO and super delegates are not allocated by district and I’ll talk about them in a subsequent post. Back to the pledged delegates.

So, you submit your paperwork: now what?  What I did was join a slate.  My slate included three nurses—you want some women and some men to balance your slate because the delegates are divided equally between men and women.  Each of us on our slate was supposed to turn out as many of our friends and supporters as possible to the Sanders’ caucus and there were other slates doing the same both at for Sanders and for Clinton.

Our slate looked like this:

Sanders slate card

I emailed friends and also contacted folks on Facebook. Honestly, I didn’t work as hard at it as I should have and didn’t expect to win, but I was looking forward to the caucus because I would see other people who shared my values and those of Sen. Sanders.  We didn’t know where the caucus would be and it could have been anywhere in the three-county area.  Ultimately the two campaigns decided on Salinas, and the Sanders’ caucus was at Hartnell College and the Clinton caucus was at the Laborer’s Local 270 Union headquarters.

Nurses Bernie DelegatesAs it happened, there were almost 300 people at the Sanders’ caucus and around 100 at the Clinton caucus.  Electioneering at these caucuses is not only permitted, it seems to be encouraged.  All the candidates and various slates moved up and down the line of people waiting to get inside, handing out printed materials and talking to voters.  Now, raise your hand if you knew about this vote?  Right. Most of us never hear about this and it is not usually advertised much in the media, if at all.  Almost everyone there was there because some candidate had asked them to be there along with party insiders who know about these caucuses from past elections.  Normally, party insiders are a large enough bloc that they can potentially sway these elections.  At the Sanders’ caucus, however, there were almost no insiders present.  It was a diverse group of people, younger more than older, wearing their Sanders T-shirts and buttons.  With other candidates, I walked the line and asked for people’s votes, greeted and hugged friends, and handed out my slate’s flyer.

Finally the door opened and people could enter and vote. They had to be registered Democrats and were asked if they would pledge to vote for Sanders although this pledge was not binding.  It was heart-warming to see so many friends there; maybe I had a chance. There were also many people there wearing red “National United Nurses” scrubs.

But would these people who didn’t know me vote for me because I am on the same slate as the nurses?  People could vote for four men and three women, and I think this was my advantage because I was on a slate with three women and no other men.  Some people voted and left but many stayed to hear the candidates.  Of the nearly 60 certified candidates, maybe 20 were there to speak and we each had exactly 30 seconds.  It is hard to be persuasive in 30 seconds but as we stood in line I tried my best to arrange three key ideas. Who am I and why am I worthy of representing hundreds of thousands of voters on the Central Coast at the convention. Why I support Bernie?  What kind of delegate I will be.  After everyone spoke, I felt like we would be well represented no matter what because there were so many well spoken and passionate people.

Then we waited around for about two more hours as volunteers counted the ballots. It is an understatement to say I was surprised when it was announced that I was the highest vote-getter. I never expected to win.  So, there were four men and three women, but how many would actually go to Philadelphia and the convention? That would depend on the percentage of the vote that Sen. Sanders got on June 7 in Congressional District 20, during the state primary.  At this moment, we still don’t know the final count. Election night it appeared Secretary Clinton won CD20 with 54% to 46%.  That meant there would be three Clinton delegates plus one Clinton alternate and three Sanders’ delegates.  A week later, the vote flipped as Sanders moved ahead in our district, so then three Sanders delegates plus one Sanders alternate and three Clinton delegates would represent our district.  The votes are still coming in and Sanders’ lead is growing somewhat; if he were to get more than 57% the delegate distribution would be four Sanders and two Clinton and I don’t know what would happen to the alternate!  If this sounds confusing, it is.

Here are my takeaways from this process.  A very small number of people select the actual delegates, basically a few hundred. Most of those people are there because someone who was running asked them to show up and vote. Is this the most democratic process? Do I even need to ask?  I won and I am grateful, but the process is so secret and so few people participate that it seems less than democratic. This year the Sanders’ campaign brought many people into the process who don’t normally participate, and our caucus was larger than most, but even so, 300 people picked the delegates for a district that includes some 700,000 voters.  People either voted for people they knew, voted because the person they knew was on a slate and voted for the other people running with their friend, or voted based on a 30-second elevator speech. This seems less than a thorough and in-depth way to choose delegates.  The whole process seems a bit elitist, to be honest.

I am honored that I won, but was it really me or the quality of my fellow slate-mates and perhaps the recognition I enjoy being an elected official?  I do think our district is well represented. In addition to myself, we have two nurses, Jennifer Holm and Sandra Martinez, plus the alternate is land-use activist Gary Patton, the attorney and former Santa Cruz County supervisor.  I can’t speak to what happened at the Clinton caucus but they also have fine delegates: Tony Russomanno, Carole English, and David Kong.

In a subsequent post, I will tell you what happened at the state delegate convention where the elected “delegates” and our super delegates picked the PLEOs and at-large delegates and also chose delegates from our state caucus to serve on committees.  If you think this will be a simple and transparent process, you may be surprised: I know I was.

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New plan emerges for homeless parking in Monterey

Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.A new plan to provide safe overnight parking to six homeless women is to be presented at the Monterey City Council meeting at 4 p.m. today. The location — a city lot next to the Police Department.

The City Council had voted 3-2 last week against a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street as part of the church’s One Starfish program. (See previous Partisan article here.) Supporters expected approval but Councilwoman Libby Downey decided at the last minute to vote against the plan because of strong opposition from church neighbors, who said they had already been dealing with negative interactions with homeless people.

Downey said afterward that it was a difficult decision that some had misinterpreted as a slap at the homeless and the One Starfish program. She said she remained fully supportive of the program and her only concern was the location. Since the vote, she has worked with city staff to come up with an solid alternative, and she said Tuesday morning that she believes they were successful.

With council members Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett strongly supporting programs to aid the homeless, look for approval of the new plan.

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.City Council votes 3-2 not to offend the neighbors

Minnie Coyle, the late mayor of Monterey, was known for many things, but a single sentence published in the Monterey Peninsula Herald possibly best describes her legacy.

“Almost like Horatio at the Bridge,” the Herald declared, “Monterey Mayor Minnie D. Coyle symbolically stood at the city gates last night ready to protect the citizenry from the ‘flower children.’”

The issue, of course, was the city’s crossed-armed resistance to organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival.

Now enter our new Horatio and his small army — Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson and the council majority — to protect the citizens from six homeless women who are trying to make their way in this desperate world.

By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Monterey City Council denied a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep safely in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street.

Later in the evening, the council also rejected an ordinance that would give homeless people overnight shelter within the warm and sacred confines of local churches. This last ordinance was considered an “urgency” action, formally and morally, since the weather has been cold and inclement lately and there is significant fretting among those who possess a modicum of compassion that more homeless people might die without shelter.

The bodies of two homeless men were found across the street from Trader Joe’s last month, killed by their apparent inattentiveness and preparedness to prevailing weather conditions. By police accounts, they had earlier declined officers’ offer of help.

Before ruling in the Methodist Church case Tuesday night, the council heard from a long line of neighbors with legitimate complaints about the headaches caused by encampments of homeless people in and around their neighborhood. In particularly, vagrants, beggars and homeless haunt the gullies and backwoods near Del Monte Shopping Center and many of them make the nearby Union Bank property their toilet.

The neighbors described a long list of the bad behavior they must endure, and for that they deserve our pity.

But then they argued that allowing the Methodist Church to use six spaces in its parking lot so that homeless women in cars can sleep comfortably and safely will further degrade the neighborhood.

Each neighbor agreed that the Methodist Church program, called One Starfish, is righteous and beneficial and deserves our support. Many of the neighbors felt compelled to preface their public testimony with statements asserting that they are compassionate and giving people who would give the shirts off their backs to homeless people, as long as said homeless people are situated somewhere other than their general vicinity.

They pointed out that many other parking lots are better suited for such activity. Indeed, there exists a quiet and functional parking lot, away from the madding crowd, behind City Hall and Colton Hall that might be used. And they do have a valid point. A Capitol Idea, one might say.

And, ultimately, it’s one of many other sites the council might consider now that it rejected the Methodist Church parking lot.

Still, even after the council voted against the Methodist site as a safe parking place for harmless homeless women, the neighbors’ problems haven’t been solved. The council action Tuesday did not a thing to remedy the vagrancy problem in that neighborhood.

For the record, councilmen Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett cast votes in support of One Starfish.

While the One Starfish issue was a localized rejection, the council’s action on church shelters was more of a citywide rebuff of compassionate treatment of folks who are down on their luck.

This was an outright rejection of the I-Help model of grace and humanity, egged on by homeowners who declared that offering those who are less fortunate than the rest of us a dry, warm place for the night only encourages them.

Almost 50 years ago, the Herald scribe who covered Mayor Minnie Coyle was not the only bemused observer of her brigade of finger-waggers. Also on the scene was Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of an upstart magazine called Rolling Stone.

Wenner’s account of the unfolding drama, published in 1968, feels appropriate today: “And so it began to happen in Monterey: a bizarre enactment of the entire American tragedy.”

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Boxing. Businessman in boxing gloves on backgroundAs if the fight over Fisherman’s Wharf leases wasn’t creating enough drama for the Monterey City Council, a new City Hall skirmish has broken out that promises to be at least as spirited.

The first punch was thrown during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Monterey Planning Commission when two commission members, David Stocker and Paul Davis, received emails from Mayor Clyde Roberson and Vice Mayor Alan Haffa asking them to withdraw their applications for reappointment to the commission.

Roberson and Haffa constitute the council’s nominating committee for commission appointments and they indicated in the emails that they have essentially decided to impose term limits for commission members though neither the council nor voters have enacted term limits. Traditionally, a two-person committee nominates residents for commission appointments that are then voted on by the five-member council.

The terms of four commissioners, including Stocker and Davis, are set to expire and the city has received applications from two others active in city politics, Rick Heuer and Sharon Dwight. Heuer is a lobbyist for the hospitality association and has been an adviser to the mayor, especially during the current effort by other council members to toss out a set of sweetheart leases between the city and wharf-related businesses. Dwight is a key figure in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Program.

(UPDATE: Heuer says he has not applied for a position on the Planning Commission. Roberson says he cannot comment because commission applications are confidential under California law, specifically the Maddy Act, which requires government bodies to advertise commission openings. The text of the Maddy Act makes no reference to confidentiality, however, and a spot check of other jurisdictions found that  commission applications in many California cities make it clear that the applications are subject to public disclosure under the state Public Records Act. Monterey’s application, however, says the form remains confidential until the appointment process is complete. The spot check turned up one other city, Ripon, that labels the applications confidential.)

The terms of Planning Commissioners Willard McCrone and Luis Osorio are also set to expire but they apparently have not received emails asking them to resign. McCrone has been a leading force behind the effort to require wharf business to begin paying market rates for their space. The business and the hospitality industry has mounted a campaign to beat back the increases by portraying city officials as incompetent and uncaring. Perhaps not incidentally, Roberson and Haffa have been on opposite sides of that debate, with the mayor siding with established wharf interests and opposing the reform efforts.

McCrone commented Wednesday, “I expect my (email) any moment, and Luis Osorio, too. That is four of seven  commissioners from the best PC on the Central Coast, by far.  Dismissing over 50 years of experience.  It will have the effect of gutting the Waterfront Master Plan, in which we have pushed to recapture some of the waterfront from the wharf merchants for the public.  The Plan has been languishing in the back room for over 6 months while Clyde waits to get rid of us. ”

In a response email to the City Council and the rest of the Planning Commission, Stocker wrote that if the City Council wants to establish term limits, fine, but only after the matter is subject to an “open, public council discussion and decision.” As it is, the attempt by Roberson and Haffa to reshape the commission is simply “unacceptable,” Stocker said in a phone interview Wednesday. Stocker, a builder, has been on the commission for at least 15 years.

Davis, an architect, couldn’t be reached for immediate comment, but Stocker said he had spoken to his commission colleague.

“He said this is bullshit and he’ll fight,” Stocker said.

City Councilwoman Libby Downey said she also considered the attempted elimination of the commissioners as unacceptable.

“I’m very disturbed,” she said. “Two people cannot do this.” And if Roberson has received support from Councilman Ed Smith, which would provide him with a council majority, it would be a violation of the state’s open meetings law, Downey said.

Downey and others have said that Roberson ultimately would like to do away with the Planning Commission, partly because he believes it has too much authority on some matters and adds unnecessary bureaucracy on others.

The letter from Roberson and Haffa to Stocker reads:

Thank you for your years of dedicated service on the Planning Commission to keep Monterey a special place to live, work, and visit.  We value your contributions and caring for our precious City.

At this time, our subcommittee feels that it is time to allow other dedicated citizens to serve. We feel that 8 consecutive years on the Planning Commission in a good number.  Going forward, it is important to bring a variety of people from the community onto our commissions. 

Unlike other commissions, the Planning Commission often acts as a quasi-judicial body, and many instances, is the final approval body.

If you decide to take a break, we hope you will apply again in the future.  If you desire a break, you might consider withdrawing your application for the Planning Commission so it is clear that you are not being “fired,” which is absolutely not the case.

The subcommittee does not want to lose your expertise and experience.  To that end, we hope you will consider serving either on the Architectural Review Commission or Historic Preservation Commission.  There are openings on both, and both would benefit from your membership.

We hope to hear your positive response on the ARC and HPC opportunities.  Please let us know as soon as possible.

In appreciation,

Mayor and Vice-Mayor

Here is Stocker’s response:

Last October, during the election cycle, when we met at Libby’s, you had said that you would be putting in term limits for all committees, including the NIP (Neighborhood Improvement Program), and therefore, you would not support me for another planning commission appointment. When you said that, I had indicated that if that was the decision of the council, I would consider a different committee. The council has not voted on term limits, and I believe that discussion should happen, instead of it being put in place on select committees and individuals. I understand that my long service to the city has been at the pleasure of the Council, that is the essence of an appointed position, and it has been my pleasure to serve the city. But if the decisions not to reappoint are due to time limits, it should be a open, public, council discussion and decision.

I wish you all the best.

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Just in time to add to the confusion over the city of Monterey’s lease policies at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Views and News publication has been revived.

The centerpiece of the relaunched vehicle criticizes City Councilman Alan Haffa for sending a note to hospitality and chamber of commerce officials expressing his displeasure for their lobbying efforts on behalf of longtime leaseholders. The leaseholders, including Cannery Row Co. executive Ted Balestreri and the daughter of the late restaurateur Sal Cerrito are attempting to hold onto lease rates negotiated in 1964 so they can continue subleasing wharf properties to others at current rates.

The article, headlined “Monterey Council Member attempts to Silence Stakeholders,” says an email sent by Haffa contained a veiled threat but there is no indication of what the threat entailed.

Monterey Bay Views and News was started in 2012 by public relations specialist and former Watsonville journalist Jon Chown in partnership with Peninsula businessman Nader Agha, who is pursuing a desalination project at property he owns in Moss Landing. The print component of the publication ceased operations a year later and it apparently remains mothballed while Chown moves ahead with a digital version.

The article about the wharf quotes from city documents from 2011 when city officials met in closed session and decided not to attempt legal action against the leaseholders. At that time,  critics of the lease arrangements were contending that longtime leaseholders had received a sweetheart deal that amounted to a gift of public funds.

According to Monterey attorney and Planning Commissioner Willard McCrone (see his Partisan post below), many of the existing leaseholders are leasing space at the city-owned wharf for 61 cents per square foot per month and subleasing the same space to others for several times that amount. Supporters of the leaseholders have mounted a letter-writing campaign accusing city officials of mindlessly seeking to raise the rent without regard for consequences. Those behind that effort have provided virtually no information about lease rates, profit margins or other details but have made good use of the public’s discontent with government to spin public perception their way. With Chown’s return, they apparently have found another tool.

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How could I forget to follow the money?

161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Gramps also told me to always check campaign contributions when writing about political issues but, doggone it, I forgot to do that before writing the piece about the smackdown attached to the leases at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Sure enough, there were some contributions that may help explain why Councilman Ed Smith thinks the existing policies are just fine and why he hasn’t joined with  Alan Haffa, Libby Downey and Timothy Barrett in trying to put some business sense into the process.

I haven’t been able to find Ed’s campaign reports from his first attempt at a council seat, but when he ran last year he got the following contributions from folks who’d like to preserve the sweetheart arrangements at the wharf:

Chris’ Fishing Trips, $250.
Mercurio Brothers, $250.
Monterey Bay Boat Charters, $100.
Cafe Fina, $250.
Ben DiGirolamo, $100
Sam Balesteri, $1,000
Monterey Bay Silver, $250.
Coniglio Family Trust, $250.
Benji Shake, $200
Mary Alice Cerrito Fettis, $100.

The names of some people with wharf interests were conspicuously absent from Smith’s reports. I’m guessing, and it is only a guess, that some of them might have been behind a $2,000 contribution from something called the Monterey Bay Action Committee, with a Carmel address. The thing is, I don’t know what the Monterey Bay Action Committee is but something tells me it’s the Peninsula’s answer to contractor Don Chapin’s Salinas Valley Leadership Group. If you know, please chime in. If I’ve got it wrong, please chime in very loudly.

The fifth member of the City Council, Mayor Clyde Roberson, is also opposed to changing the wharf leasing policies. He ran unopposed for his seat and didn’t receive campaign contributions. So that’s not it. It would be great if he would give us his take on the topic.

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6CORRECTION PENDING: Based on information from the city, I reported in this post that the average lease rate at the wharf properties is about $1.65 per square foot. I have since been informed that the rate actually is about 65 cents. In his comment below, Willard McCrone states that the “minimum” lease figure is 61 cents. I have not yet been able to fully to determine which of those figures is better for comparison purposes.  In the meantime, anyone with actual numbers is invited to share them in the comment section below. Please attribute.

Gramps didn’t say a lot but what he did say was worth hearing. For instance, he offered fairly often that whenever someone tells you how honest they are, you should make sure they haven’t already lifted your wallet.

When we’d ask why he was so quiet most of the time, he’d answer, “When you don’t know what you’re talking about, stop talking.” Good advice, and I am reminded of it because of how much is being said these days by those who don’t understand the issues in the heated debate over the city of Monterey’s leasing practices at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The topic is much more complicated than you might expect, but to hear the wharf tenants and their pals tell it, it’s simply that the city wants to gouge local businesses without regard to reality or ramifications. The thrust of their argument is that the city is making it up when it says the wharf tenants are paying less than market value rent, but the reality is that the city has ample facts and figures to support its position. In other words, the tenants are attempting the age-old technique of repeating the same fiction over and over until the repetition causes people to start believing it. The key is to keep contending it’s the other side that’s lying. It works in politics, after all, and this debate is all about power politics.

Unfortunately, the facts here are open to fairly easy distortion because the individual leases and sub-leases have been negotiated at various times over the decades and because the wharf isn’t your typical bricks and mortar building on dry land. And because the city owns the property below the wharf and not the structures themselves, the tenants want us to believe the city is trying to extract gold from plain, old mud when, in fact, the city’s watery real estate is about as prime as it gets.

Also complicating matters, the tenants in some cases built the structures that house their businesses. In some cases, the leaseholders long ago sub-leased the property to other tenants, creating a situation in which the leaseholder is making a pretty profit while the city is receiving a relative pittance. Apples to apples comparisons become difficult but that does not mean that the city can’t support its position. The city has obtained expert opinion from some of the region’s most knowledgeable specialists in commercial real estate and applicable law.

Notice that the tenants aren’t broadcasting any numbers, actual figures about how much they’re paying, or not paying. Instead, they keep accusing the city of ignoring facts and numbers. Say it often enough and people will believe it.

TENANTS HAVE PLENTY OF OTHERS TO DO THEIR BIDDING

Many of the current leases that the city wants to rewrite as they expire were negotiated and renewed at less than arms’ length by past councils populated by friends and associates of the tenants. As a result, the rent being paid by many of the businesses is well below market rate, no matter what you are being told by those who don’t really know.

Among those pretending to know is KSBW-TV, which maintained in a recent editorial that the City Council “has started down a short-sighted, ‘never-mind the facts’ path, aimed at changing leases for long-time wharf businesses.”

You’ll notice that the editorial has little to say about the facts that the city supposedly is ignoring. It doesn’t mention that the average monthly lease rate of around $1.65 per square foot is 50 cents to $1 below prevailing rates on the Peninsula.

The tenants argue that the city must allow long-term leases, longer than 10 years, so they can finance improvements to the properties. KSBW simply accepts their assertion that the city won’t allow longer leases even though newly adopted city policies say options beyond 10 years are available. When? When contemplated improvements could not be financed if the business was limited to a 10-year ease.

(At least two City Council members contacted KSBW to quarrel with its version of the “facts” and to ask for an opportunity to rebut the editorial. They were told that they could post a response on the station’s website but couldn’t meet with the KSBW editorial board or have their objections aired. Though the station’s editorials end with “KSBW welcomes responsible replies to this editorial,” that doesn’t amount to an offer of air time and doesn’t imply those responses will be shared with anyone, according to News Director Lawton Dodd.)

The editorial makes the argument, which others are repeating with limp evidence, that the new lease procedures could drive local businesses off the wharf, potentially leading to an invasion by better-financed national chains. Never mind that the city is well aware of the great value of local tenants. The specter of chain restaurants was also raised in a recent Monterey Herald commentary by the Monterey Hospitality Association and the Chamber of Commerce, which were enlisted by the leaseholders to lobby for the lucrative status quo.

Operators of Sapporo and the London Bridge Pub in this building don’t rent their space from the city but from another leaseholder who rents from the city. If the city was receiving the market rate, the restaurant owners would be paying above market rate. How likely is that?

It deserves mention that among those fighting to keep the current lease structure intact is chamber and Hospitality Association stalwart Ted Balestreri of the Cannery Row Company, one of the city’s biggest landlords and holder of the master lease on the property that houses Sapporo Steak & Sushi and the London Bridge Pub at the foot of the commercial wharf. Though that property isn’t on Fisherman’s Wharf, it is subject to the revised leasing practices. While Balestreri’s supporters use the prospect of national chains as a scare tactic, it should be noted that tenants of some of the Cannery Row Company’s best real estate are the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and El Torito, both part of large national chains. (By the way, Balestrieri has said that the Bubba Gump operation on Cannery Row was pulling in more sales per square foot than any other restaurant in the country.)

COUNCIL MEMBERS GETTING HAMMERED FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING

After considerable discussion and consultation with their real estate experts, the City Council, by a 3-2 vote, has approved some 20 new leasing policies and soon will take up two more that would directly impact the wharf. We can expect the leaseholders to fight mightily over the coming months to roll back some the 20 measures and to fight hard against the two current proposals.

The first would require the wharf businesses to cover the expenses assigned to common areas and facilities such as a commercial trash compactor. Unfair, say the businesses. But ask why the city should be required to continue subsidizing these enterprises and the answer is likely to veer into politics rather than business practices.

The second proposal would set a limit on the square footage that could be leased by any one entity. The concern, of course, is that some of the wharf’s most successful entrepreneurs, such as the Shake family, could dominate the wharf property. The Shakes are accomplished restaurateurs but the city rightly fears that having one tenant with the majority of the leased space could put the city at a great disadvantage: Reduce the rent or we’ll pull out.

In another Herald commentary, Chris Shake took issue with the views of Planning Commissioner Willard McCrone, whose research of the leases played a large part in the current reform effort.

Shake wrote, “Commissioner McCrone has no facts or evidence to prove his assumptions that the wharf tenants are paying below-market rent; his assumptions are completely false and have no basis.”

Did Shake then provide facts and figures to disprove McCrone’s assertions? Nope. Nothing at all. He publicly labeled McCrone a liar without a hint of evidence

The fact is, and this is an actual fact, that debate over the wharf leases has turned into a hardball case of politics that has supplanted what should be a professional negotiation. Another fact is that the tenants amount to a politically powerful lot, flexing muscles they have built through decades of political and charitable contributions, family ties and associations with other political and commercial powers.

MESS WITH THE LEASEHOLDERS AND EXPECT TO GET ZAPPED

Often in a debate such as this, taxpayers’ groups would step up to support the government’s position because below-market rental rates essentially require taxpayers to subsidize the enterprises. But the most active taxpayer group on the Peninsula is the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association, which is closely allied with the Hospitality Association, which has taken up the tenants’ cause.

The council members pushing this effort should be congratulated. Instead, they have found themselves under heavy attack. For many years, well into this century, the city’s real estate matters were overseen by a fellow who had virtually no previous experience with real estate. At one point lasting more than a year, the city forgot it owned a condo intended to provide affordable housing, so it sat vacant. This is not a fact, only a theory, but some suspect that city officials made a conscious decision to let themselves be outmatched in negotiations with the wharf tenants. It was simply easier thatr way.

Going forward, support for professionalizing the leases comes from council members Libby Downey, Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett. Mayor Clyde Roberson has gone the other way. Whether that has anything to do with his previous service on the council, between 1981 and 2006, isn’t clear one way or the other. Also going the other way, Ed Smith, who has championed the tenants’ case at every opportunity.

When I came to the Peninsula as city editor of the Herald in 2000, I asked assistant city editor Calvin Demmon, a wise adviser, about the Cannery Row Company.

“Cannery Row?” he said. “That’s the third rail of Peninsula politics.” For those you too young to get the reference, it comes from electric trains. The third rail is the one that carries the juice. It’s the rail that one doesn’t mess with.

Those are some of the facts. There are others that we’re not prepared to discuss because we haven’t studied them well enough. To some degree, then, we’re following grandpa’s advice, and we’re hoping that others who haven’t studied the issues will follow along for now.

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American Flag Painted by Roller Brush, Wining Concept of Flag

UPDATE: Here is Marina Coast Water District candidate Sarab Sarabi’s response to the news reported below on Oct. 8  that he is on probation following a marijuana-related arrest last year.

“I have been the state political director or the student wing of the California Democratic Party, I have served as the policy director of the western United States for the student wing of the Democratic National Committee, I have sat on the Senate Bill 1440 Implementation and oversight Committee, I was instrumental in getting several state lawmakers to support the California dream act, I have fought all my life for democratic values and supported leaders who seek to implement those values, locally I ran the canvassing operation with the mayor and designed the literature for Marina’s measure Ito fund police, fire and senior services all this work in the name of democratic values.But people are encouraging you to research a criminal record instead. Alright well since you asked, yes, I was arrested for possession of marijuana but there is no such thing as felony probation and I was released. Just a couple months after the arrest the DA tried to throw the sun and the moon at me but at the end of the day all of the original chargeswere dropped. I pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor just so I could get it over with. I should have had my medical marijuana license on me but the paper is so large and awkward to carry around I often just don’t. (The Partisan also asked Sarabi about a rumor that he had a previous arrest for arson) As to the fire damage I was playing with fire in my own room and it got out of hand I was just old enough for this to go on my adult record by the way that was almost two decades ago, Since then I have done many great things. I tutored at risk children in math and science while I was a student at Monterey Peninsula College, I have devoted my life’s efforts to the enfranchisement of young people whether it was access to college or the ballot box or something as simple as helping them with homework my efforts in Sacramento led to the legislature passing several bills that made college more accessible tohundreds of thousands of young people across California.

“I can go on and on about the past my local efforts on measure I ensured continued funding for fire, police, and seniors my work has not gone unrecognized as I have beenawarded various awards including one from our very own congressman Sam Farr as well as the state chancellor’s office.In the end I bring balance a fresh face, a policy background, passion and energy. I’m looking forward to being able to work with Jan (Shriner) and Margaret (Davis) to really unite Marina and do the people’s work. We can’t do that with Howard (Gustafson), Ken (Nishi) or Bill (Lee). Thank you. I hope this answered your question I look forward to building a long-term relationship with you if you would like to ask more questions in the future.”

Proprietor’s note: Marina police records say Sarabi was arrested after a small amount of marijuana was found during a traffic stop in 2013. A Monterey County Superior Court docket sheet says he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of possession of concentrated cannabis and that three other felony charges were dismissed as the result of a plea bargain. The record says he was placed on three years probation with the understanding that the felony would be reduced to a misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation. “The People indicate to the Court that the plea agreement included no reduction of count 4 to a misdemeanor unless the defendant successfully completes the term of probation, defense concurs.”

 

 

Continuing where we left off in Part 1, with the easiest pick of the season.

SHERIFF: When the Monterey County Weekly endorsed incumbent Scott Miller, it said the choice was so obvious that “even the Herald got it right.” Here here. Or is it hear hear. I have never been sure

Steve Bernal, a sheriff’s deputy with absolutely no management experience, should be ashamed of the campaign that Brandon Gesicki and other GOP henchmen are running on his behalf.

Gesicki has been telling people that the Bernal campaign has some bombshells to drop on the sheriff. They’ve made as much noise as possible for as long as possible about Miller’s son being a druggie. That, at least, is true. I’m betting that Gesicki and company will soon be making stuff up.

Bernal’s campaign advertising portrays Miller as some sort of crime boss and Bernal as the decent, honorable alternative. If hanging around with Gesicki and his ilk hasn’t drained all the honor out of him already, he should publicly fire his advisers, apologize to his boss and sign up for some training

Miller is highly experienced. He spent years in the Salinas Police Department, rising through the ranks, and was police chief in Pacific Grove before being elected sheriff. He inherited a mixed bag staff-wise with a fair number of deputies who had coasted through their jobs. He has worked to make them accountable and to weed out the worst. A goodly number of deputies are supporting Bernal and it’s no wonder. Who would you rather work for, a hard-nosed boss or your buddy?

Though the position is non-partisan, Bernal’s candidacy is all about partisanship. The local Republican Party is hellbent in getting as many GOPers as possible elected to local office. Before the campaign, one of the party bosses offered Miller a deal. Register as a Republican or we’ll run someone against you. You can see what happened.

For another glimpse at how things really work, check out Bernal’s list of endorsers and you’ll see some familiar names out of Carmel. Though cute little Carmel has little stake in law enforcement outside its borders, Bernal has been endorsed by former Mayor Sue McCloud and former City Council members Paula Hazdovac and Gerard Rose. Yes, they’re Republicans but that’s not the whole story. Some may recall that Miller’s wife, Jane, was once personnel director in Carmel and she successfully sued the city after she was repeatedly sexually harassed by the city manager at the time, during the incumbency of McCloud and there others. She received a settlement of $600,000.

You be the judge. McCloud, Hazdovac and Rose, sharp cookies all, decided for some odd reason to endorse a cluelessly inexperienced candidate for sheriff, or could it be retaliation? Politics at its worst.

In other words, re-elect Miller.

DEL REY OAKS: Incumbent city councilmen Jeff Cecilio and Dennis Allion are trying to stay on board while challenger Patricia Lintell, a retired computer scientist, is trying to knock one of them off. I’d go for Lintell because the incumbents in Del Rey Oaks seem hell-bent in turning their Police Department into a little Army for no particular reason. Forced to pick one of the incumbents to stick around, I’d go with Cecilio simply because I talked to him once and he seemed OK. I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of voting for Allion, however.

GREENFIELD: I generally don’t dig too deeply into Salinas Valley races but Greenfield Mayor John Huerta has been in office long enough. He and I have quite a few mutual acquaintances. They always seem to pause when they talk about him. In other words, they have reservations but they’re reluctant to put them into words.

Challenger Michael Richard de Leon-Mungia is young, smart and eager. Let’s give him a shot.

MARINA: Mayor Bruce Delgado is one of the nicest guys around. In almost every way he is the opposite of past mayors Gary “You Talkin’ to Me” Wilmot and Ila “I’m An Army Colonel and Don’t You Forget It” Mettee McCutchon. Delgago has enough of the ‘60s peace-love-and-understanding stuff left in him to drive the Board of Realtors wild but he has proved to be hard-working, conscientious and respectful of his constituents.

Delgado’s opponent, Ken Turgen, is an architect and planning commissioner whose list of supporters reads like the guest list for one of Ila’s birthday parties. Delgado is receiving support from the slow-growthers. Turgen is the pick of the  fast-growthers. If Cal Am has any money left over from its last campaign, look for someof it to end up in Turgen’s treasury.

I’d suggest voting for Delgado unless you like strip malls and taxpayer-subsidized construction projects.

Meanwhile, two incumbents and a newcomer are competing for two seats on the Marina council.

Incumbent David Brown, one of three lawyers on the council, often votes with Delgado, Frank O’Connell and Gail Morton. Let’s call them the liberals. Incumbent Nancy Amadeo often votes the other way. Let’s call her not a liberal.

Re-electing Brown and Amadeo is a fine idea. It won’t shift the balance of power and will keep one person on board to help keep the others honest. Recreation Commissioner Dan Devlin Jr. also seems vote-worthy, partly because his late father, the former Defense Language Institute commander, was one sharp fellow. Even so, I’d vote either Brown-Amadeo or Brown-Devlin, not Amadeo-Devlin.

MONTEREY: Clyde Roberson will be the next mayor because he scared everyone else off. He was a very popular mayor a long time ago and every seems to think he did a good job.

The City Council race, however, is a real contest. Two seats are open, those of Nancy Selfridge and Frank Sollecito. Frank’s had enough and is hoping that another retired Monterey cop, Ed Smith, takes his place.

Smith is a worthwhile candidate. He’s studied the issues closely and understands city business. However, I can’t stop thinking that for him, job one would be protecting police pensions at the expense of everything else.

Selfridge is the wind-up councilwoman. She’s here, she’s there, this meeting today, that meeting tonight, or visiting a sister city at her own expense. Early on in her council career, she was hopelessly naïve. She’s wiser now but still an idealist. Every City Council needs at least one. During the past term, she expended much of her energy fighting with then-City Manager Fred Meurer. Now that he’s gone, she should be able to put her energy into larger causes. (When you read the Herald’s endorsement in this race, keep in mind that Meurer’s wife, Phyllis, is now on the Herald editorial board.)

With lefty Alan Haffa already on the council, his friend Tim Barrett could amount to one idealist too many. He’s a true peace-loving, homelessness-fighting Occupy Wall Street kind of liberal of the sort that has been in short supply here over the decades. Selfridge supporters fear, however, that a Barrett victory could mean a Selfridge defeat, so they’re urging voters to shy away from Tim. I’m also bothered by his ages-old arrest for allegedly manhandling his girlfriend.

Lawyer Hansen Reed is the solid guy in the middle. He isn’t fully up to speed on some of the issues, such as desalination, but he is known to be a quick study and is well regarded in the legal community. Barrett’s politics suit my own better but I agree that voting for him would reduce the chances of a Selfridge victory. I’m thinking Selfridge and Reed.

SEASIDE: If it was a popularity contest between Mayor Ralph Rubio and former Mayor Felix Bachofner, Rubio would win it easily. He’s the handsome charmer, the guy who remembers everyone’s name and accepts criticism with a smile. Bachofner, an aggressive, youngish businessman, won’t win on style points. And there’s that name. I just looked it up and I’m still not sure I’m spelling it right.

But style points or not, Rubio shouldn’t be in office for the simple reasons that he’s a mucky-muck with the Carpenters Union. No one else around seems to care but to me it is one heck of a conflict as much as I admire unionism. Most of the controversial items that go before the council involve development. When Rubio votes yes, as he almost always does, is he voting yes as the mayor or yes as the union executive who sees jobs for his members? The upcoming decisions on the Monterey Downs racetrack venture will be as controversial as they come. The project also would create quite a few carpentry jobs. I’d like to think the mayor’s analysis goes deeper than that.

Did you know that the Home Depot store in Seaside, which was fast-tracked through the Seaside City Council, is in a building owned by the Carpenters Union?

Rubio’s got all the moves, but Bachofner should be back in office. When he was mayor before being knocked off by Rubio, he worked hard on all sorts of issues and represented a wider range of interests than Rubio does. As a small businessman, he had minor conflicts of his own but he worked them out forthrightly. He’s the right choice.

Meanwhile, the Seaside City Council election is a four-man race for two seats.

I’ll always support incumbent Alvin Edwards, the retired fire captain and former water board member. That’s because he truly understands what working-class families are up against in Seaside and because he always laughs at my jokes. Alvin made a name for himself politically while he was on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board. When development interests applied pressure to the board, and essentially disrespected the environmentalist bloc on the board. Edwards responded by stepping up and becoming a leader of the water-conservation, slow-growth contingent. I wish he would take more of a leadership role on the council, but I’m glad he’s there even when he’s quiet.

I’m also giving a thumbs up to landscape contractor Jason Campbell because he is smart, energetic and opposed to the Monterey Downs boondoggle. The council needs at least one person who won’t rubber stamp development. Jason was a leader of last year’s unsuccessful anti-Monterey Downs initiative, but even those on the other side of that campaign would have to admit that his side would have prevailed if the other side hadn’t relied on fraudulent advertising. He would be the odd man out much of the time, but he would be serving a great purpose by keeping the council accountable.

The other incumbent is the very likable Dennis Alexander. I find it fascinating that the ballot doesn’t say he’s an incumbent. Instead, it calls him a teacher and reserve police officer. Maybe the value of incumbency is slipping. He has done a fine job on the council but not fine enough to recommend him over Edwards and Campbell.

PACIFIC GROVE: For mayor, I’m going with the incumbent, Bill Kampe, though I have found myself disagreeing with him on water issues. I have a hard time supporting anyone who didn’t support the effort to take Cal Am Water public. But challenger John Moore, a lawyer, is too much of a one-note guy, all about pensions. Important thing, police pensions, but not the only thing.

Six candidates are competing for three seats on the P.G. City Council. If I knew more than I do, I’d tell you all about it, but I don’t so I won’t.

SALINAS: Mayor Joe Gunter, the former police detective, is a pretty good guy, though I wish he would vote his conscience more often rather than political expedience. Take him aside sometime and ask how he really feels about cardroom gambling.

If I lived in Salinas, I’d vote for challenger Bill Freeman, the outspoken Hartnell College trustee who has championed progressive causes and who has been a real friend to the instructors. I like his stance on most things, but I’m not going to pretend that most people in Salinas could ever support him. I wish he had run for a seat on the council first. Gunter would be the more practical choice but who says we always have to be practical? Freeman.

No matter what I say here, the three City Council candidates will be re-elected, though Kimbley Craig‘s opponent, Eric Peterson, seems to be coming on. I had initially felt that Peterson was simply too liberal for the north Salinas district, but he has demonstrated a command of the issues. Unfortunately, much of his key support seems to be coming from outside the district, particularly on the Peninsula.

As for incumbent Tony Barrera, I’ll simply remind him that he is still trying to rebuild trust after previous legal issues. His aggressive style can work well in representing the city’s poorest district but the tough-guy persona doesn’t always work. I’d remind Councilman Steve McShane the he’s not 23 any more and remind Councilwoman Kimbley Craig that expectations are rising. She’s not the new kid on the council anymore.

No, it hasn’t escaped my attention that these three incumbents are the very same three incumbents who got together and scolded the former city librarian to the point that she walked away with a big-dollar settlement from the city. But what’s that old saying about the devil you know….

MARINA COAST WATER DISTRICT: Now, to my favorite contest.

Many voters on the Peninsula figure there’s no need to pay attention to the Marina Coast Water District, which supplies water to Marina and much of Fort Ord. The thing is, the district board is an important player in area water affairs. At one time it was a partner with Cal Am in an attempt to build a desalination plant. Now, it may go it alone on a plant and no matter what happens, it has the capacity to play a spoiler role in other water-related efforts. That’s why it is important to have skilled and public-spirited people on the board. Therefore, I’ll start with the candidates who should NOT be on the board.

Incumbent Howard Gustafson and former trustee Ken Nishi are a two-man team apparently committed to keeping everyone confused. They say their motivation is to keep water rates down but it’s hard to tell because they seem to communicate in code.

Gustafson’s the board bully, or would-be bully. His tactics often don’t work because people often can’t figure out what he’s talking about. Nishi is the mischief maker, the sneaky one. Voters should be reminded of the time when he was serving on the Peninsula sewage treatment board at the same time and  arranged for the water district to hire away the sewage district’s chief executive, breaking several confidences in the process.

Gustafson and Nishi have a fast-growth agenda and other agendas known only to them. They have been endorsed by the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, a decision that decidedly cheapens the chamber’s other endorsements. If you live in Marina, don’t vote for them. If you have friends in Marina, call them and tell them not to vote for these guys. Having them on the board reduces the effectiveness of board member Tom Moore, one of the smartest people I know. He’s a Naval Postgraduate School professor and they’re all wonks over there. He also has a remarkable understanding of water politics and water-related engineering. Having Nishi and Gustafson on the board with him again would make board politics so difficult and confounding that his effectiveness could be seriously degraded. He’d have to spend all his time playing their games.

When Nishi and Gustafson were on the board together a few years back, I compared the district to a Moose Lodge. I owe an apology to the Moose.

Incumbent Bill Lee also should be thanked and excused. I’m not sure I understand his game either, but he calls himself a security consultant when he’s actually a bail bondsman. When his brother in law ran for a board seat a few years back, Bill introduced him to everyone without mentioning the relationship.

Initially I was ready to endorse Sarab Sarabi along with two excellent choices, Jan Shriner and Margaret Davis, but I have been urged to do some additional research on Mr. Sarabi. Court records indicate that he is on felony probation following an arrest last year for a minor marijuana offense. I have asked him about it but haven’t received a response. (UPDATE”: SEE RESPONSE AT TOP OF POST).

Shriner has become a water wonk and the board’s monitor of all things procedural. She obviously feels that things will work out well if everything is above board and all procedures are followed to the letter, which puts her at distinct odds with Gustafson and Nishi. She takes her position extremely seriously and deserves another term.  Davis, meanwhile, is an editor and land-use activist. She is fully conversant on the issues and would be a great addition to a board looking for ways to solve the region’s water problems.

Shriner and Davis

BALLOT MEASURES: Maybe later.

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The Monterey City Council voted last night to discourage older people or the disabled from shopping downtown.

That was not the intent of the 4-1 vote, of course, but the unintended consequence certainly could be elimination of any places for shoppers or other “regular people” to sit.

In an effort to keep unsightly homeless people away from stores and to prevent panhandling in places where there are people available to be panhandled, the council enacted a ban on sleeping or reclining in commercial districts. While it is true that those are places where it is common for people of all ages to sit and panhandle or sit and play guitars, etc., it is also common there for husbands to sit and wait outside while wives shop for dresses and where wives wait while husbands shop for ties.

Councilman Alan Haffa was the dissenter, arguing that banning sitting in public could be unconstitutional and clearly is unfair.

The ordinance was presented by Police Chief Phil Penko, though that does not necessarily mean it was his idea. He said it is aimed at “travelers,” drifters who pass through town looking for handouts and sometimes blocking the paths of other people. Hoping to make the new law fit into a constitutional framework, Penko said it targets behavior, not the homeless.

Other cities have struggled with the same issue for years and years. Santa Cruz, with much more of a youth culture than Monterey, attracts relatively large groups of bedraggled youth in search of community and spare change. To address that, it has wrestled with various ordinances, bans and law enforcement campaigns, at significant legal costs and less significant results.

Many at Tueday’s meeting agreed in passing that downtown could use more benches, even though it was obvious that that would never happen. How can a transient be ticketed for sitting over here while a couple of shoppers are watching from over there? Nonetheless, the council majority also agreed to pursue additional benches. How the city can travel both paths remains to be seen.

Penko said the ordinance “targets behavior,” but the way it’s written it targets the wrong thing. A wiser approach, in my humble opinion, would be to truly target bad behavior by banning aggressive panhandling and prohibiting people from blocking sidewalks or store entrances. That would do much more to help create a downtown that attracts large numbers of people to shop, eat and, when tired, sit.

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